NEWS

Ministry of Education Has Right to Close SDA College: Judge

The church argued that it has the right to appoint a SDA as principal, in terms of section 22(4) of the Constitution of Fiji.
23 Nov 2019 12:15
Ministry of Education Has Right to Close SDA College: Judge
Members of SDA Church in Fiji outside the Civil High Court in Suva on November 22, 2019. Photo: Ashna Kumar

The Civil High Court in Suva has ruled that the Ministry of Education has the authority to close Vatuvonu Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) College.

The order was granted by Justice Brito Mutunayagam yesterday after a hearing conducted on June 24.

The plaintiff in the matter was the Attorney-General of Fiji on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts.

The first defendant in the matter was the Vatuvonu SDA College while the second defendants were Luku Narabe, Aisake Kadukeinadavu, Victor Bonetti, Ram Chandar and Josateki Taleimaitoga, as registered trustees of the SDA Church, Fiji.

The orders by Justice Mutunayagam are:

(i) I grant a declaration that the Second Defendant has no lawful authority or right to effect closure of the First Defendant at any time, without the sanction of the Permanent Secretary for Education.

(ii) I grant a declaration that only the Permanent Secretary for Education has the lawful authority under the Education Act, 1966, to order closure of the school.

48. I grant a declaration that the Plaintiff has the lawful right to appoint a suitable Head of School and any acting positions in terms of the OMRS process and in a manner consistent with the constitutional right in section 22(4) of the Constitution.

49. I decline the application for a declaration that the Plaintiff has the lawful right to appoint any suitable Head of the School and any Acting positions thereof without any interference by the Second Defendant.

50. I decline the application for an Order that Second Defendant does’’ not interfere with the Plaintiff’s rights to appoint any suitable Head of the School and any Acting positions thereof.

(iii) I decline to grant an order for the Second Defendant to handover the management and control of the First Defendant to the Plaintiff until the outcome of the investigations conducted by the Ministry into the complaint of alleged abuse of funds by the Defendants and any prosecution thereof.

(iv) I make no order as to costs.

The court heard that the first defendant (the school) was an aided school registered under the Education Act.

The second defendants (the church) was the controlling authority of the School. The Church had decided to close the school and reopen as a private school, consequent to the appointment of Mr Raikivi as the acting principal of the school by the ministry, as he is not a SDA.

Government stated the church could not close the school without the sanction of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry.

The church argued that it has the right to appoint a SDA as principal, in terms of section 22(4) of the Constitution of Fiji.

The Government then stated that the insistence of the Church to appoint a Principal of the SDA faith is contrary to section 22(4) of the Constitution and unfairly discriminates against Mr Raikivi under section 26(3) of the Constitution. Mr Raikivi passed the test under the Open Merit Recruitment and Selection (OMRS) process and was at the top of the order of merit.

“I have held that the church cannot close the school without the approval of the Permanent Secretary. I therefore decline the application for the management and control of the school to be taken over by the Plaintiff.”

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

Feedback: ashna.kumar@fijisun.com.fj

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